Clarion County organic growers cooperative wins Walmart deal

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Growers from Clarion River Organics check tomato plants in a tunnel. (submitted photo)

When locals ask Lindsay Jacob where they can get Clarion River Organics produce, soon she’ll be able to tell them they can find it at their local Walmart.

The small cooperative of organic growers in Clarion County, Pennsylvania, was one of 330 businesses given a deal to sell with Walmart through its ninth annual Open Call event. 

Clarion River Organics, based in Sligo, Pennsylvania, primarily sells wholesale to distributors in Pittsburgh, so the best way to get the co-op’s produce to people living around where it is grown was to get in with Walmart, said Jacob, general manager of Clarion River Organics. 

“It’s the only grocery store we have in town,” Jacob said. 

Open Call is Walmart’s largest sourcing event. It started in 2013 when the company pledged to spend $250 billion over 10 years on products made, grown and assembled in the U.S. Walmart pledged to spend an additional $350 billion by 2031 on domestic products. 

This year, more than 1,100 businesses from across the country were accepted to pitch their products. The 330 winners were announced at the end of June.

“We’re excited that more and more shelf-ready products at strong price points are being produced in the U.S., like those at Clarion River Organics,” said Felicia McCranie, Walmart director, corporate affairs. “Our $350 billion investment in items made, grown or assembled in the U.S. helps deliver our customers the goods they want and need, when they need them, at affordable prices, while supporting the creation of more than 750,000 jobs.” 

Clarion River Organics started in 2009 when a group of Amish farmers in the Clarion County area banded together to sell their produce. As they grew their farms, the families realized they were saturating their local markets. They needed someone else to handle logistics and operations to help them reach new markets, and then they could just focus on farming. 

“They’re all family-owned, small- to mid-sized operations,” Jacob said. “Most of them are using horse and plow.”

The co-op now has a dozen farms, and includes one English farmer in the area, and produces about a million pounds of food each year, Jacob said. Everything goes to a central warehouse in Sligo where the produce is repacked to be shipped to retailers in the Pittsburgh area, like Whole Foods or Giant Eagle, or to a distribution center in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 

“I have people calling me all the time asking ‘Where can I buy your produce?’ and I say ‘We send it to Pittsburgh,” Jacob said. “We needed a larger retail partner like Walmart or have it be worth it to us [to keep it locally].”

Walmart was also the best option to make Clarion River Organics produce accessible and affordable for residents. There are smaller grocery stores scattered around near the small towns in the area, but the retail giant is the one-stop-shop for people living in and around Clarion County.

Jacob is not sure exactly when Clarion River Organics produce will be on Walmart store shelves. It could be as late as next growing season by the time they get logistics ironed out.

While she’s excited to get their farms’ products in with Walmart, she knows there will be challenges as well in being a small business dealing with such a larger retailer, but it’s a step in the right direction.

“If they’re buying here in Pennsylvania, if they’re shifting their business, it would be huge for us,” Jacob said. “I have a lot of food that needs to be moved.”

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be reached at rachel@farmanddairy.com or 724-201-1544.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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